By Mark Niesse Associated Press

Rarely-used procedural move could bring bill up for a vote in the Senate where as many as 18 have already said they back it

HONOLULU — Hawaii legislators have stalled a proposal to bring same-sex civil unions to the islands, but Democratic leaders plan a bold move to bring the issue to a vote of the full Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-3 early Wednesday morning, Feb. 25, which is short of the majority needed to advance the bill through the normal legislative process.

Senate leaders have said they intend to yank the measure from its committee and force a vote before the 25-member Senate, which is allowed under a rarely used provision of the Hawaii Constitution if more than one-third of senators approve. As many as 18 senators have said they favor civil unions, which has already passed the House.

If it passes and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle doesn’t veto it, Hawaii would become the fifth state to have civil unions. Lingle is uncommitted on the issue.

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut allow gay marriage, while Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire allow civil unions. Californians voted in November to overturn a court ruling that allowed gay marriage, but the state still offers domestic partnerships that guarantee the same rights as marriage.

Impassioned crowds swamped the Hawaii Capitol and testified for more than 15 hours before the committee vote at 3 a.m. Wednesday. Two Democrats joined the one Republican on the committee to vote against it. The Legislature is more than 80 percent Democratic.

Hundreds of gay marriage and civil union opponents, wearing red shirts in a show of unity, outnumbered gay rights advocates at the Capitol, with many overflowing from the auditorium into the halls to watch the testimony on TVs set up for the occasion. It was the largest turnout for a Capitol hearing in years.

"In my Bible, God has not changed and his words have not changed," said Dennis Dutton, assistant pastor of Calvary Chapel West Oahu. "This is about upholding the first institution established by our Lord."

Civil union backers wore gold stickers with the word "Equality" written on them in green.

"Why is the world’s most diverse location still discriminating against its homosexual brothers and sisters?" asked Bryan Oran, who identified himself as a 19-year-old service member of the military.

Those opposed to civil unions argued that they’re the same thing as marriage, which should be reserved to couples of one male and one female. Nearly 70 percent of Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 granting the state Legislature the power to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples.

"We have already made it clear that we oppose same-sex marriage in Hawaii. … Our mistake was when we assumed our representatives would represent us," said testifier Lisa Poulos. "Do not try and sneak same-sex marriages through the back door by calling them civil unions."

Civil union proponents told lawmakers that equality is a civil rights issue that should be settled based on principles rather than a dated majority vote.

"It is plain old dirty nasty discrimination," said Kapolei resident Michael Golojuch Jr.

The Hawaii Constitution allows a bill to be recalled from a committee 20 days after it was referred to that committee, so it couldn’t be pulled to the Senate floor until March 10 at the soonest.

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